The Theatre Factory in Trafford celebrates 20 years
From a hectic beginning with a premiere in a bingo hall, The Theatre Factory has endured rising costs and a barren downtown to reach its 20th season in Trafford.
To celebrate, the nonprofit theater group's gala on Saturday will provide both a peek to its past and a glimpse into its future. The two-hour show will feature 14 actors and actresses performing favorite songs from the first 19 seasons, as well as previews of shows for the upcoming season that starts in September.
Though a gala traditionally has been one of the group's most successful outings for helping to subsidize a season, this is the first one in a few years, board President Michael Byrne said.
“Not only is it a huge fundraiser and a huge help to us, but also our subscribers were asking, ‘Why isn't there a gala?'” Byrne said. “It was important to reinstate it.”
In keeping with the manufacturing reference in The Theatre Factory's name, the group's development in Trafford required some assembly over time.
Before moving into a former restaurant and bowling alley on Cavitt Avenue, the troupe presented its debut, “Some Enchanted Evening,” in the banquet room of the Trafford Polish Club.
For the first two years of shows, volunteers sprang up after the last bingo game on a Wednesday night to clean the room and install the sets, seating, lighting and sound equipment for shows on the next Friday, Saturday and Sunday. When the last show ended, they hauled it all away so the room could be used again as a banquet hall. Productions for children, dubbed KidWorks, were put on at St. Mark's Lutheran Church.
The new place was a work in progress, too. When it opened for the first show, “The Woman in Black,” in October 1997, the building had no stage, no heat and no lobby, said Carol Connelly, one of the group's founders.
As it turned out, the setting was perfect for a gothic show that opens in dilapidated theater.
“It was a real eyesore, but it worked fine,” Connelly said. “We laughed so hard because there was a couple that had seen the show in London before. They said, ‘How did you get the theater to look like this?'”
With each show, the group added more amenities to rebuild the interior to accommodate audiences.
Now running on an annual budget between $70,000 and $80,000, the group weathered a difficult 19th season in which extreme cold helped to keep attendance low for some shows, particularly for ‘A Taffeta Christmas.” The season before that, the Trafford Veterans Memorial Bridge, which links Trafford to Monroeville along Route 130, was closed for reconstruction.
And it's getting more expensive for community-theater groups to put on shows. The cost for the rights to stage a musical often run between $4,000 and $5,000, Byrne said. “Nunsense,” which opens the season on Sept. 19, is a little cheaper at $3,500.
Financial decisions sometimes determine which shows go on stage around the region. The Valley Players of Ligonier opted to put on “8-Track: The Sounds of the ‘70s” this month because the $4,750 royalty cost for “Romance/Romance” was too high, said Eric P. Harris, executive director of the Ligonier Theatre.
“It's a community theater, so we do what we can do, but The Palace (Theatre in Greensburg) has something going on two or three times a week,” he said. “There's only so much entertainment dollar to go around.”
Twenty years after its start, the Theatre Factory generally is the only nighttime attraction in Trafford other than a sit-down meal at a handful of restaurants or a stop at a local watering hole.
Sometimes, new diners at Parente's Ristorante don't even realize Trafford has live theater downtown, owner Renee Cappetta said. For years, she has teamed with the group to offer a dinner-and-show package.
“Once people come to the restaurant and find out there's a theater in town, it's just a pleasant surprise for people because it doesn't cost much to have a nice night out,” Cappetta said.
Communities such as Delmont, McKeesport and Elizabeth Borough also offer shows outside Pittsburgh.
The Theatre Factory has been able to survive because of its good reputation, Byrne said.
“I think The Theatre Factory has the benefit that it's been there so long that even the people who have moved away know we put on a high quality show and are willing to drive to it.
Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-871-2363 or firstname.lastname@example.org.